During J-Term 2018, 286 students and 29 program leaders will participate in one of Luther's 17 courses around the globe. Although it's impossible to keep up with everyone, these blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures. Below you'll find a blog post from the History 299 course "History and Memory of the Holocaust." Check out the January Term 2018 Course Blogs page for more on each of the courses!
Hi everyone! My name is Kristin Davis. I am a senior social work major and I am from Washington, Iowa.
Today our class had the profound opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor, Agi Geva, tell her story. This was a moving experience for the class and allowed us to learn about the Holocaust through the eyes of someone who went through the hardships. Agi is originally from Hungary, endured a year of the Holocaust in a concentration camp in Poland, lived in Israel for many years after World War II, then moved to the United States where she currently resides.
Agi began her story by telling us that she shares her experience because she does not want it (something as terrible as the Holocaust) to happen again. In an article, “Art and the Holocaust: Trivializing Memory” we read before our travels, the author Elie Weisel discusses how when learning about the Holocaust, we try to feel how victims felt during the time… but we will never truly know. He says, “Listen to the survivors and respect their wounded sensibility. Open yourselves to their scarred memory, and mingle your tears with their tears.” This is something I kept in mind today. Agi’s story was intriguing, yet I never told myself that I now know what the Holocaust was like because of her story. I will never truly know. I can learn about the event and individuals’ experiences, and I can respect and be sensitive to what they endured, but I will never fully understand and feel what they have gone through.
As Agi’s father passed away before antisemitism became prominent in Hungary, Agi (14 years old at the time), her younger sister (13 years old at the time), and her mother experienced the horrific pain of concentration camps from 1944 until the end of the war in 1945. Agi attributes her survival to her mother and father. Agi’s father required her sister and her to learn different languages. They learned Hungarian, German, English, and Latin at a young age and her father told the two of them that knowing languages is something no one can take away from them. Later on while in Auschwitz, knowing German would save Agi’s life as she persuaded a German soldier to allow her to go to the “right” during the selection process. Agi’s mother, a very clever and resourceful woman, did her best to shield the pain of the Holocaust and hide the truth of Auschwitz and other concentration camps from Agi and her sister. Agi truly had no idea how many individuals were being killed each day until she heard a radio broadcast after the war. Agi’s mother constantly made sure the three of them were always together because her mother believed that if one got separated, no one would survive. All three stayed together and all three survived.
In Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich’s book, "Holocaust Memory Reframed", she discusses the way we remember the Holocaust through “witnesses,” or authentic aspects that can teach us about historical events. People, such as Agi, “act as witnesses and bear testimony in the sense that they testify to the time and place whence they came. They belong to a different world, and thanks to their authentic presence, or ‘aura,’ we can come closer to that distant, vanished world through them.” Agi was our authentic witness; authenticity does not get more real than what we experienced today. Seeing Agi in person, hearing her story in person, and even seeing her concentration camp tattoo in person was powerful and showed me that she lived in a different, distant world during the Holocaust… one I cannot imagine living. Seeing her tattoo (she really wanted to show us and felt it was important we saw it) put me in awe. Seeing the “A” (for Auschwitz) and then her number in green ink on her skin provided an authentic example of how dehumanizing and horrid her experience was. Throughout her talk, Agi kept saying… “this was the worst.” Agi’s genuine and authentic perspective of her experience provided us a learning experience that is valuable to learning about the Holocaust.
It is difficult to give Agi’s story justice and adequately share it with all of you. Listening to a Holocaust survivor is something I had never experienced before, and it is an experience that I will never forget. Agi shared with us that it is important that she shares her story because she is the last generation that experienced the Holocaust first-hand. In years to come, books, videos, and museums will be the only way to learn about the Holocaust. Can you imagine? The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum curator we spoke with on Tuesday also shared with us how difficult it is that Holocaust survivors are aging and how it is becoming difficult and will soon be impossible to make sure survivors are engaged in the museum process. Survivors are such an important aspect of the history of the time period and we need to hear their stories so what they have gone through is remembered and never forgotten.